Trenton, like other northern communities, did not allow African American children to attend school with their white counterparts and instead built separate schools. The Higbee Street School was built in 1857 as a school for African American children in the city and was soon joined in the neighborhood by other segregated schools.
While typical in its history of racial school and residential segregation, Trenton was also a pioneer in efforts to overturn these policies. In 1943 Berline Williams and Gladys Hedgepeth sued the Trenton school district to allow their children to enroll in Junior High No. 2, a school that, according to the principal of the school stated when denying them entrance, was “not built for Negroes.” The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled in 1944 that this denial violated a state statute making it “unlawful for boards of education to exclude children from any public school on the ground that they are of negro race.” This case was instrumental in building legal precedent for the 1954 Brown vs Board of Education decision by the United States Supreme Court, which overturned the doctrine of “separate but equal” and affirmed the Constitution’s protection of equal rights.
The Trent House Association joins with other groups and individuals in Trenton seeking to recognize the history of racial injustice and the struggle for equal rights that continues today by restoring the Higbee Street School. Once restored, the School can serve our community as a center for learning and commemoration.
Free-will donations made at the talk on November 3rd will be dedicated to supporting this community effort.
Light refreshments will be served.